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Land-grabbing letter hits nerve

Land-grabbing letter hits nerve

The government yesterday lashed out at a letter sent by opposition lawmakers to the World Bank that urged the bank to increase pressure on the government to end forced evictions, land grabbing and threats against community members involved in land disputes with well-connected companies.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers had no authority to ask international organisations to interfere with government decisions.

“This shows that the [SRP] do not understand the law. They sit in parliament and if they see something improper they must debate with the Royal Government because [people] voted for them to sit in parliament,” he said.

The World Bank suspended loans to Cambodia at the end of last year due to the eviction of villagers at Boeung Kak lake.

In a letter addressed to World Bank country manager Qimiao Fan on Monday, 13 SRP lawmakers detailed numerous land concessions granted by the government to private companies that they claimed had resulted in land grabbing, forced evictions and threats against local residents.

“We would like to inform the Country Manager of the World Bank in Cambodia that the actions of land grabbing, forced evictions, threats and pressures on people from the authorities of government are not only occurring to those people living in Boeung Kak Lake, but are also widespread practices within all provinces,” the letter said.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann, who signed the letter, said yesterday that the SRP lawmakers had done nothing unusual, saying it was common practice for opposition members to communicate with international organisations.

Last month, World Bank country director Annette Dixon said the bank did not expect to provide any new lending to Cambodia until an agreement was reached with residents of Boeung Kak lake.

In 2008, the land dispute at Boeung Kak lake drew national attention when construction for an upscale commercial and housing development began flooding surrounding villages, with rights groups stating that more than 20,000 people faced relocation.

Earlier this month, the remaining residents were promised land titles within a 12.44-hectare relocation site set aside by Prime Minister Hun, though some residents remain cut out of the compensation deal.
World Bank spokesman Bou Saroeun said yesterday that the bank had received the letter from the SRP, but declined to comment further.

In the letter, SRP mentioned concessions granted to two Vietnamese companies in Prey Long forest – which spans sections of Kampong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces – a 36,000-hectare concession to a Chinese company in Koh Kong province as well as concessions granted to companies in 11 other provinces.

“The land concessions that we have emphasised in this letter, involve a large number of people who have been forcefully evicted or are currently facing the prospect of forced evictions, some of whom have no alternative homes and others [who] have been arrested and unjustly detained,” the letter said.

SRP lawmakers also highlighted land concessions awarded to prominent figures tied to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. These included concessions in Kampong Speu province granted to Phnom Penh Sugar Company, run by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat, and concessions awarded to Pheapimex Group, owned by the wife of CPP senator Lao Meng Khin, and KDC International, which is run by the wife of Industry, Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.

The letter calls on Qimiao Fan to “assert more influence to cease the actions of land grabbing, forced evictions, threats and pressures … just as the World Bank recently assured for the villagers in the Boeung Kak lake”.

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